CLYMER, N.Y. – Canadian Roger Sloan climbed back up 20 spots to sit tied for fourth after the third round of the LECOM Health Challenge at Peek’n Peak Resort.
With an impressive seven consecutive birdies on the back-nine, the Calgary, Alta., product fired an 8 under in the third round. Sloan will head into the final day tied for fourth with American Hank Lebioda, four strokes back of leader Sebastian Muñoz at 14-under-par 202.
After shooting a 3-under 69 on Friday to retain a share of the lead, the Colombia native remarked that he believed this was the week the lessons he’d learned this season would pay off. With another round in the books at Peek’n Peak Resort, it looks as if Muñoz might be right. The 26-year-old carded a 7-under 65 during the third round Saturday to move to 18-under 198 for the tournament, setting a tournament record for lowest 54-hole score and claiming the solo lead heading into Sunday. Nelson Ledesma and Kyle Jones sit one stroke back, tied for second.
The round began slowly for Muñoz, who carded five-consecutive pars and a bogey in his first six holes. The 2016 Country Club de Bogotá Championship winner remained calm and collected, however, not letting the slow start rattle him, despite a leaderboard that was quickly bunching up around him.
“I had a few looks that I could’ve made birdies on,” Muñoz remarked. “I didn’t make them and then made a bogey, so that’s always frustrating. You start to think that maybe it’s not your day, but I wasn’t negative at all. I just hit three great shots on No. 8 and then completely flipped the switch.”
Flipping the switch was indeed what Muñoz did. After hitting a strong drive off the tee, he was left with 289 yards to the pin. Despite initially being hesitant to play aggressive from his spot, Muñoz and his caddie decided to take a chance. The play ended up paying off for the University of North Texas alum, who landed his ball on the first cut of the green, about 15 feet from the hole. He would successfully make the putt, picking up an eagle in the process.
He continued to ride that momentum, picking up birdies on his next four holes. Confident in his play, Muñoz glanced up at a leaderboard for the first time on No. 15. When he noticed that he wasn’t leading, despite what he felt was great play, he realized he needed to keep pressing on the gas through his closing stretch.
“I noticed I wasn’t leading,” he said about looking up at the scores, “even though I was playing good and I was like, ‘wow.’ I think that helped me make birdie on Nos. 16 and 18.”
When Muñoz approached the green on No. 18, he shared the lead with Jones and Ledesma, who had already finished their rounds. As he looked around at the fans packed into the grandstands and bleachers and looked back at the putt he had remaining for birdie, he knew that was about to change.
“I kind of just pictured the line when I was walking the first time I saw it,” he commented when asked about the birdie putt. “I just thought, ‘I want to hit it right now.’ It was one of those that you just kind of instinctively know you’re going to make.”
Muñoz would card the birdie to move to 18-under 198 heading into Sunday, marking the ninth time this season that he has held a round lead/co-lead on Tour. Despite having been in contention early on in four different tournaments heading into this week, the Bogotá native had failed to carry any lead into Sunday. While his results have still been strong (a runner-up performance, a third-place, and six additional top-25s), victory has seemed to evade him each week.
“I feel like this year I’ve learned a lot,” Muñoz reflected. “I feel like I’ve grown as a player from last year, and even from [the beginning of] this year. It just keeps proving that work does pay off. I’m happy with the position I’m in and we’ll see [what happens tomorrow].”
While a victory Sunday in Western New York would secure his return to the PGA TOUR next season, the win would come with additional meaning for Muñoz, who is quickly becoming one of the main faces of professional golf in Colombia.
“Man, I love it,” Muñoz said about being able to represent his home country. “I just think it’s huge for golf in Colombia, trying to make it bigger, trying to make it more popular. I think the things it’s doing for the tournament in Bogotá and the sponsors – for me to be able to help a little is just great.”